We’re pleased to share Shannon Dingle’s next installment in her series examining adoption and the church. In addition to serving as a Key Ministry Church Consultant, Shannon is a co-founder of the Access Ministry at Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh, NC. Today, she presents the third of five ways churches can love their adoptive and foster families…Partner With Us. Here’s Shannon…
Family ministry is a buzzword in the church today. A lot of the language around this trend is about partnering with families because God created the institution of the church and the institution of the family to complement one another.
So it makes sense that one way to love the adoptive and foster families in your church is to partner with us. In many ways, this looks just like family ministry does for everyone else. In the words of Timothy Paul Jones from his book Family Ministry Field Guide: How Your Church Can Equip Parents to Make Disciples, family ministry is:
“The process of intentionally and persistently coordinating a ministry’s proclamations and practices so that parents are acknowledged, trained, and held accountable as primary disciple-makers in their children’s lives.”
To this end, churches are promoting and/or developing resources to equip parents. As a mom, I’m a huge fan of this! I love all the tools I can get my hands on, and with six children who are each uniquely created with different learning styles and temperaments, parenting isn’t a one size fits all endeavor for me and my husband (nor is it for any other parent).
If you’ve missed the other posts in this series, you might want to read those for a little more context: the one in which I introduced our family, the one about the four kinds of special needs in adoptive and foster families, the first way to love adoptive and foster families: avoid treating us like idols, and the second way: become trauma- and attachment-informed.
When it comes to partnering with families who are adopting, have adopted, and are involved in foster care or Safe Families, the church can step up in love in a few specific ways to help equip us:
- Know resources in our field of parenting. I don’t expect my pastor to be well versed in all aspects of attachment, trauma, and post-adoption support, but it is helpful for church leaders to be able to point families like mine to solid resources to equip us as parents. Here’s a few you might want to be familiar with: Empowered to Connect videos, workbook, and conferences and the books Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control; Wounded Children, Healing Homes: How Traumatized Children Impact Adoptive and Foster Families; Parenting the Hurt Child; and Mending the Soul: Understanding and Healing Abuse. Additionally, be mindful that many traditional parenting strategies or books you might otherwise recommend can be harmful approaches for our kids if applied with compassionate consideration of their backgrounds.
- Familiarize yourself with local resources. Are there family counselors or therapists in your area who are experienced in working with foster and adoptive families? Can you name one adoption- or foster-trained social worker in your county? If one of your adoptive or foster families wanted to go to a conference to be better equipped in their roles as parents, how would you direct them? What agency manages post-adoptive counseling for families who have adopted from foster care in your state? If you can’t answer those questions, do a little research so that you can.
- Use your words wisely, in three specific areas:
- Be thoughtful in how you talk about adoption and foster care. When adoption, foster care, orphans, or the fatherless are talked about in your church, be mindful that you are describing people not abstract concepts. If you would change your words if you knew a former or present foster child, orphan, or other unparented child was in your congregation, then choose different words.
- Avoid framing adoption as a Plan B if biological children don’t come. I’ve been in situations in which a pastor or other leader frames parenting sacrifices as trying to have children and pursuing treatments to that end and then, after exhausting that path, considering adoption. Each time, I want to reach over and cover the ears of my children, because they aren’t the afterthoughts that adopted kids sounded like in those sermons. Yes, many families do chose adoption after infertility, but when that’s how adoption is framed, their children – who are often in church and hearing the same sermons – might feel like they aren’t as wanted or preferred as biological children. And many families like mine chose to adopt or foster without ever experiencing infertility.
- Talk about “the family” in a way that respects our families too. How do you frame the family in your sermons and other teaching? Please define family more broadly than just one father, one mother, and 2.5 biological children (and not just for our benefit, as other families – like blended families or those led by a single parent or two divorced parents – are also loved well in this way). Our foster and adopted children were not born to us, may not be biologically related to us, and – in the case of foster families – are not ours and might only be in our home for a season. Those kids can feel like less if your definition of a family doesn’t include them.
- Love our other children well. If we already had other children in our home, we might find it challenging to give them all the attention they need in the midst of a new adoptive or foster placement. Invite our other children on play dates, to the movies, or to the mall food court… simple gestures that can give them the attention they hunger for while allowing us to focus our energy on the new addition(s) without guilt.
- Don’t judge us. If we feel safe enough with you to share about the overwhelming hard times, especially the moments when we wonder if we’ve made a terrible mistake or the moments when scary words like dissolution* or disruption* enter our minds, Love. Don’t dismiss us. Don’t sing songs to our heavy hearts. We don’t expect you to have tidy answers to our messy realities; we just expect compassion.
Family ministry is a healthy trend as churches partner with parents to disciple their precious ones. Thank you, pastors and other church leaders, for being willing to come alongside us and understand some of the unique aspects of adoptive and foster families like ours.
*Dissolution or disruption is the legal word for ending an adoption. It could be compared to divorce ending a marriage. While dissolutions and disruptions are heartbreaking, they happen and sometimes they are necessary for the wellbeing of all involved for reasons often related to trauma and attachment.
Join keynote speaker Joni Earackson Tada, Chuck Swindoll, Emily Colson, Barb Newman and 20+ leaders representing the scope of the disability ministry movement this coming November 12-13 for Inclusion Fusion 2014, Key Ministry’s FREE, worldwide disability ministry web summit. Engage in interactive chat with many of our speakers and watch each presentation at the time of day that works best for you in the environment in which you’re most comfortable. Click here to view our entire speaker lineup and register for Inclusion Fusion 2014.